Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead has a reputation as one of the worst films of all time, the kind of movie that can put you off the entire genre. For that reason,Â I’ve avoided seeing it for some time, as I find I have to carefully moderate my intake of terrible zombie films so as not to deflate my affection for the genre. I’ve had it in my possession a couple of times, and always found an excuse not to watch it. But when I saw it on on-demand recently, I knew it was time and finally bit the bullet.
And you know what? It wasn’t that bad.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t good by any means. There’s no question about it: this is a bad, bad movie. But it isn’t one of the worst — I wouldn’t replace any of the movies on my worst movies list with this, and it isn’t even close.
The plot puts a group of pretty people on a zombie-infested island. They are there for a rave, naturally. And they catch a ride to the rave with a couple of gun smugglers, naturally. It’s all very stupid and little more than an excuse to throw the characters into the zombies’ way. Once they get there, people start getting attacked and the corpses are dragged off to become zombies. They hole up in a house, they leave the house, they meet more characters, return to house, learn back story about a Spanish prison ship and the evil scientist it carried to the island, they die off one by one until just two are left, they face the big bad, the end.
It’s all cursory, clumsy and stupid. The writing is perfunctory. The acting is terrible, even by the few actors that are capable of better (Clint Howard and Jurgen Prochnow, how did you come to be in this turkey?). I got the impression that director Boll was either encouraging them to act poorly or just didn’t give a fuck. There were some elaborate action sequences, but they were so poorly filmed and edited that they were really more annoying than anything else. The zombies were okay, but nothing special. They reminded me a bit of Burial Ground‘s zombies, with the addition of glowing red eyes. The gore was skimpy — way too many of the kills were off screen, usually cut away from just before the deed. And it isn’t like they were going for a PG-13 here — the gratuitous nudity pretty much guaranteed an R, so it seems more like laziness, or perhaps Boll blew the effects budget on explosions.
There were some good points, or rather, points that lifted it out of the realm of true bottom dwellers. Some of the jokes, dumb though they were, were worth a chuckle (I loved when the blond chick got puked on, for one). It was more or less technically sound (clumsy, yes, but well-lit, shot, recorded, etc.). The pacing was surprisingly, almost shockingly good. What was consistently frustrating was how lazy and half-assed it all felt, from the moronic plot to listless acting to the haphazard insertion of footage from the videogame. It seemed like Boll watched Resident Evil, maybe a few classic zombie flicks, said “Yeah, I can do this” and proceeded to make the movie with all the dedication to craft and enthusiasm for their work that the average hipster coffeehouse barista brings to the job. It was so apparent that the filmmakers didn’t give a fuck about the movie that it was impossible to care about it. Not that I tried very hard, mind you.
House of the Dead/Germany, Canada, US/2003